"Haunting Alt-Pop" is a tag used to describe Cemetery Sun, at least from a promotional standpoint. But one look at the band's name and a listen to tracks like "E.Y.T.Y.K." and you understand how perfect the word pairing truly is. The four-piece from Northern California are poised to take their place among the alt-rock and alt-pop world of music with their unique brand and styling of tracks. The band will be releasing their debut, self-titled EP to fans in the future, and I got to speak with vocalist Josh Doty about their songwriting approach, meeting and forming a band in the studio, and why it's important to never give up.
Where are you guys based out of right now, out of curiosity?
We’re kind of scattered all over Northern California, to be honest with you. One of us, Jesse, is up in Lake Tahoe. Elliot is actually out in Walnut Creek, out towards Oakland and San Francisco. Austen and I are both out here in San Francisco.
Very nice. One of the first things I have to say that really stuck out to me about you guys was that you all met in the studio. It’s not completely unheard of, but it’s a bit rare. What was the process for you in terms of meeting the guys and going “this could work?”
It was honestly such a random experience (laughs). Elliot and Jess came from their side of things, and Austen and I came from ours, both in different bands. The band that Austen and I were in had recently broken up, so I was looking for something to do in the meantime, in that hiatus period. This girl, I swear to God, I don’t even remember her name, sent me an email. I had posted on Facebook like, ‘hey, is anyone trying to record or write?’ She sent me an email with Jesse and Elliot’s phone numbers, and three instrumentals that they had done.
I bit off what I could chew and just hit them back up. I said, ‘yo, I like your tracks, can I sing on them?’ It literally happened like that. Elliot came up to my friends’ apartment and his son was away for the weekend so we used his son’s room to set up a mic. We just recorded a couple of the songs and they turned out really cool. We just started writing after that and all joined forces within the next coming month or two.
You just never hear stories like that, in terms of meeting in the studio. I thought that was a very unique story.
It’s a very odd story, man. I’m very lucky to have their friendships through such a random occurrence like that. And I don’t even remember that girl’s name, which is so odd to me. Literally she had just sent me Elliot’s information, and I was down to try out [the music]. It sounded like this Radiohead meets Third Eye Blind meets Circa Survive sound. Me and Austen were in a band that was super Jimmy Eat World/Paramore meets Blink-182/Sum 41. We were on totally different sides of the tracks.
Your band got pitched to me as “haunting alt-rock”. It was super interesting to me, and after listening to the tracks, I thought that tagline was such a perfect fit. In terms of your writing process, what does that entail for you when you’re bringing all of those influences together?
It’s gradually changing, that’s for sure. First, the way we put together a song like “Hard Drugs, Fake Love” was a jam session. There’s two different approaches for how we put together a song: the first is where we jam it out first and we’ll pull [ideas] from it. You always think an idea is so dope until you bring it to the studio and you’re like ‘oh shit, we could make this way cooler now’. Sometimes, it’s the reverse, and it’s really odd. I’ve never been in a band where we can just do that.
We’ll go to the studio sometimes, write all of the material there first, and then the song will grow from a live aspect afterwards. We can do it both ways. When we start in the studio first, it can be any one of us that has the idea. I’m a guitar player as well, so we have three guitarists in the band and three bassists in the band. Austen in phenomenal when it comes to helping me with vocal hooks or melodies if I’m going through a drought on any particular day. We all support him with beats, too. Everyone can really truly support every instrument in the band, which is phenomenal.
The key to all of our success behind that is the self-production aspect. For Elliot, that’s his time to shine. We can all engineer a little bit, but that guy really has something special, in terms of keeping everything polished and clean, and making it super easy and super quick. There’s a track on our album called “Nothing On Me”. That song came together in six hours, and that’s the song you’re hearing on the album.
I wrote it in my bedroom on an acoustic [guitar]. Austen came over, we got kind of drunk, and we wrote the hook, and then I wrote the rest of the lyrics. I swear, man, two Saturdays later I was in the studio with Elliot. Jesse and I came up with a guitar lick and I was able to lay that down for him [Elliot]. The song literally took like five or six hours.
It’s never clear what we end up doing. I just go into every session knowing that this is going to be a fucking blast. We always end up walking away with a new song; there’s so many songs right now. They’re nowhere near being released, but I’m jammin’ ‘em because they’re dope. (laughs) It’s a weird balance from everybody: the pop, the ambience, the edge, and the flow. Each member represents a different style when it comes to that.
Earlier you had said that you’d go into the studio with an idea and say that we could do more with this, or have it develop during the live experience. Are there any tracks that you could say have substantially evolved beyond what they originally were, whether they’re on the EP or previously released?
Hmmm. They all have, they’re all a little bit different live. I guess they pack a little bit more punch live, which we’re very lucky to say we can pull that off. I think [the song] “Hard Drugs, Fake Love” though, man. It’s got an extended bridge and outro. We have a blast with it. I guess that’s the one that’s grown the most. We just have so much fun with it live. We have fun with it, sometimes we’ll play it to a click, and sometimes we won’t. (laughs) It turns out great every single time.
We definitely had the most fun with that one on the tour we most recently went on, for sure. That song, and then there’s a new song that’s unreleased, entitled “Run”. That song is going to be a blast, too. That one has grown tremendously. First it was a jam, then it went into the studio and it grew, and then we went on tour and played it every night. It grew a little more and now it’s grown even more in the studio. Those two songs, even though I know that one of them is completely out of reach to listeners right now, have been growing tremendously in a live aspect outside of the studio.
You guys just premiered a new single recently, “E.Y.T.Y.K.” About how far into the process of writing the EP did that track come in? What did it represent to you guys as a whole for the EP?
To lay that one out, the EP took a long time. That song was one of our earlier demos. We recorded it months and months before that track “Nothing On Me”, but I wrote the basic idea for that song with Austen the exact same night I wrote “Nothing On Me”. It took a bottle of Jack. (laughs) Sometimes that’s all you need!
That song was like a folk song. I’m huge into folk writing, even though I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t guess it just based off of the vocals that I do in this band. I love acoustic and folk stuff. I’ll write a song in that style or that kind of aspect first. Then I’ll just rip my lyrics off of it, and throw it on some other guitars that one of us wrote. That’s really what happened with that song. Austen and I just got super drunk with “E.Y.T.Y.K.” I was in a really dark spot of my life, man. I guess I could just leave it at that.
There were a lot of bad influences and drugs around [at that time]. When I was writing that song, I just felt like people were changing and everything was fading. Everything that I knew was kind of turning into something else, or turning into a faded photograph in your life. That’s where I was kind of coming from with that. We have the “bottle in hand”, so that’s where the lyrics that are about the alcohol and the “pick me up where you’re at” thing comes from. But the next day wasn’t going to hold anything better. (laughs) It was quite literal.
That’s how it came together, just like that. Just in a shitty roach-infested, gross apartment. Once we took it to practice, I was like ‘yo guys, check this out’. I didn’t think we would do anything with it at the time, but we started writing some really cool guitar and I started laying those lyrics over it. Elliot and I reformatted some of the guitar in the song. Jesse added his guitar on, and Austen kept that flow on the drums.
It was really difficult for us, I think, because it finally gave us a ballad, which is kind of, in a sense, what it is. Beyond just being a ballad, musically, the lyrics are really important to me, just kind of like the grit of old times in my life and our lives as a band together. It was pivotal for us musically as well as from an emotional and sentimental standpoint.
It was the third song we recorded, too.
What kind of message, if you guys have one, would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
I get asked this a lot, just because I’m the vocalist. Growing up, I always listened to music and was influenced with this sense of hope. The older you grow, you’re like “wait a minute, the world’s fuckin’ hard.’ I guess, for me, you can really draw what you want from it. I really want it to be up to the listener, but if I was to say, ‘yo, this is what I want you to take away from it’, I think it would be just don’t give up. Don’t be afraid to be real, because the real recognize the real [sic]. Don’t give up on what you want to do, and don’t let all of the shit in the world get in your way.
That’s the only reason I’ve been able to write these songs, that we’ve been able to write these songs. The reason that we’re a team, and that we do everything we do together, is because we stay real with each other and we don’t let shit get in our way. There’s been a lot of shit that could have easily shut us down by now, to be honest. There have been numerous things. But because we’re family and we’re real with each other, I think that’s the number one thing. I just want people to stay real, never give on themselves, and don’t give up on others.
What does music mean to you?
Cemetery Sun's debut self-titled EP will be available soon. For more information and music from the band, visit www.facebook.com/CemeterySun
This has been another Shameless Promotion.